The Persistence of Memory is by far Salvador Dali’s most recognizable painting, and there are many references to it in popular culture. Although it was conjectured that the soft melting watches were the result of Dali’s interpretation of the theory of relativity, Dali himself state that their inspiration was camembert cheese melting under the sun. The sequence of melting clocks in a disjointed landscape is the depiction of a dream that Dali had experienced, the figure in the middle of the painting being the face of the dreamer himself. The general interpretation is that the painting, which portrays many melting watches, is a rejection of time as a solid and deterministic influence.
This iconic and much-reproduced painting depicts time as a series of melting watches surrounded by swarming ants that hint at decay, an organic process in which Dali held an unshakeable fascination. Elaborated in the frontispiece to the Second Surrealist Manifesto, the seminal distinction between hard and soft objects, associated by Dali with order and putrefaction respectively, informs his working method in subverting inherent textual properties: the softening of hard objects and corresponding hardening of soft objects. It is likely that Dali was using the clocks to symbolize mortality (specifically his own) rather than literal time, as the melting flesh in the painting's center is loosely based on Dali's profile. The cliffs that provide the backdrop are taken from images of Catalonia, Dali's home.